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Real World Violence 1

RUNNING HEAD: REAL WORLD VIOLENCE

Markey, P. M., Markey, C. N., & French, J . E. (in press). Violent video games and real world
violence: Rhetoric versus data. Psychology of Popular Media Culture.





Violent Video Games and Real World Violence: Rhetoric versus Data

Patrick M. Markey
Villanova University

Charlotte N. Markey
Rutgers University

J uliana E. French
Villanova University



Contact information:

Patrick M. Markey, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Villanova University
800 Lancaster Ave.
Villanova, PA 19085
patrick.markey@villanova.edu
Phone: (610) 519-4743
Fax: (610) 519-4269


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Abstract
Laboratory and correlational studies often find a link between violent video games and minor or
benign forms of aggressive behaviors (e.g., exposing an opponent to an unpleasant noise). Based
on these studies, the media, lawmakers, and researchers often imply a link between violent video
games and violent criminal behavior. Using a similar methodology employed by researchers to
examine predictors of severe violent behaviors (Anderson, Bushman, & Groom, 1997), four
time-series analyses investigated the associations among violent crime (homicides and
aggravated assaults), video game sales, internet keyword searches for violent video game guides,
and the release dates of popular violent video games both annually and monthly. Contrary to the
claims that violent video games are linked to aggressive assaults and homicides, no evidence was
found to suggest that this medium was positively related to real world violence in the United
States. Unexpectedly, many of the results were suggestive of a decrease in violent crime in
response to violent video games. Possible explanations for these unforeseen findings are
discussed and researchers are cautioned about generalizing the results from laboratory and
correlational studies to severe forms of violent behavior.

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Violent Video Games and Real World Violence: Rhetoric versus Data

“Controlling the use of violent video games is one step we can take to help protect our society
from violence.” -- Brad Bushman (2013)

“. . . . high exposure to media violence is a major contributing cause of the high rate of violence
in modern U.S. society.” – Craig Anderson (2000), testimony before the U.S. Senate Commerce
Committee on the impact of interactive violence on children.

There is considerable evidence relating violent video games to aggressive behaviors and
cognitions. In a comprehensive meta-analysis Anderson and colleagues (Anderson et al., 2010)
identified 74 studies which employed the “best practices” (i.e., those studies which used valid
measurements and sound methodologies) and concluded that exposure to violent video games is
a causal risk factor for increased aggressive cognitions, aggressive affect, and aggressive
behaviors. Although some researchers have cautioned that the apparent negative effects of
violent video games are small and may be a result of publication bias (Ferguson, 2007), the
popular media, lawmakers, and researchers have often linked violent video games to severe acts
of violence. The current paper examines whether or not the findings from these studies, which
have been conducted primarily in laboratories with college students, generalize to severe forms
of violent behavior occurring in the “real world.”
In the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, many media outlets
discussed violent video games as one of the potential causes of this tragic event (c.f., Simpson &
Blevins, 1999). Following the shootings at Virginia Tech, local and national media noted that
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the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, was a fan of the violent video shooter game Counterstrike
1
(c.f.
Benedetti, 2007). In a similar manner, media sources reported the Sandy Hook Elementary
School gunman, Adam Lanza, played the video game Call of Duty, a game which mimics
wartime violence (c.f., Smeltz, 2012)
2
. A search of an online database of newspapers (ProQuest
NewsStand) found that nearly 5,000 articles were released in the aftermath of these three
tragedies, which discussed video games in the context of these three school shootings. The
implication in many of these articles was that these violent acts were precipitated and perhaps
even caused by exposure to violent video games. For example, on the popular ABC news
program 20/20, one television commentator noted, “In every school shooting, we find that kids
who pull the trigger are video gamers” (Thompson, 2000).
The growing concern about a link between violent video games and severe forms of
violent behavior prompted President Barack Obama in 2013 to encourage scientists to research
the effects of violent video games (Molina, 2013). In the thirty years preceding this request,
federal and local lawmakers conducted numerous hearings, proposed various legislative acts, and
passed approximately a dozen laws in an effort to regulate the sale of violent video games. One
of the most salient political events concerning video games was the 1993 hearing on video game
violence led by Senator J oseph Lieberman, resulting in the creation of the Entertainment
Software Ratings Board (ESRB; Kent, 2010). The ESRB is a self-regulatory organization whose
purpose is to assign age and content ratings to video games. In 2011, the United States Supreme
court struck down a California law prohibiting the sale of violent video games to youth, thereby
affording video games the same first amendment protection as films, music, and other artistic

1
A governmental panel created after the Virginia Tech shootings found no evidence that Seung-Hui Cho ever
played or owned the game Counterstrike or any other violent video game (Virginia Tech Review Panel, 2007).
2
A governmental report noted that, although the shooter owned Call of Duty, he spent most of his time playing
non-violent games, including Dance-Dance Revolution and Super Mario Brothers (Sedensky, 2013).
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works (Helle, 2011). This decision by the Supreme Court has not curtailed the concern of
lawmakers. Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, several local and federal
bills were introduced, including the federal bill “Video Games Enforcement Act” (H.R. 287)
which would regulate the sale of violent video games. Various legislators continue to be
concerned that violent video games are a main contributor to youth violence, with Senator Lamar
Alexander arguing that “. . . video games is (sic) a bigger problem than guns, because video
games affect people” (Linkins, 2013).
In addition to lawmakers and the media, violent video game researchers have linked this
medium to serious and deadly assaults. This connection has been explicit at times, such as when
researchers described violent video games as “murder simulators” (Grossman, 1998), or when
arguing that video games can train children to kill in a manner similar to how a flight simulator
teaches a person to pilot a plane (Bushman, 2008; Gentile & Anderson, 2003). Some researchers
have even contended that the negative effect of violent video games on public health is similar to
the causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer (c.f., Bushman & Anderson, 2001).
Other times this link has been more subtle, such as when researchers reference real world
violence to substantiate the rationale of their research. For example, in the peer-reviewed “best
practices” studies identified by Anderson and colleagues (Anderson et al., 2010), 28% of the
studies discussed severe forms of violence, most often within the introduction or abstract of the
article
3
. Of these studies, 42% presented their research in the context of the Columbine High
School shooting with the remaining discussing other school shootings (e.g., the Heath High
School shooting, Westside Middle School shooting, etc.), homicide rates, and terrorism,
including the September 11
th
attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Outside of

3
The first author of the current research article was also an author of one of the “best practices” studies which
discussed violent video games in the context of school shootings.
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journal pages, researchers have also linked laboratory findings with severe forms of violence
during interviews with the popular media. For example, in searching for possible motivations of
the 2013 Washington Navy Yard shootings one prominent researcher noted that “. . . video game
use may have been a contributing factor,” and argued the shooter was probably a more accurate
shot because he liked to play the video game Call of Duty (Bushman, 2013).
The concern about violent video games expressed by the media, lawmakers and
researchers may be justifiable given the prevalence of this medium. Media researchers define a
video game as violent if a character in the game displays realistic or cartoonish aggressive
behavior toward another character. This classification is not focused on how graphic the
violence is in a game; rather it centers on whether or not the behavior the game character exhibits
is intentionally harmful to another game character (c.f., Gentile, Saleem, Anderson, 2007;
Thompson & Haninger, 2001). This definition is consistent with claims that cartoonish violence
in E-rated games has the same negative effects on violent behavior as realistic violence portrayed
in M-rated games (Gentile, et al., 2007). Consequently, regardless of a game’s ESRB rating,
games which contain cartoonish and realistic violence are both considered to be violent. For
example, the violent video games used in the studies identified as employing the “best practices”
(Anderson et al., 2010), included a cartoonish platformer (Ty2; Rated E – content is suitable for
everyone), a violent first person shooter (Call of Duty; Rated M – content is suitable for 17 years
and up), an exaggerated version of baseball (MLB Slugfest; Rated E – content is suitable for
everyone), and an adventure game where the main character employs cartoonish attacks such as
“pepper breath” (Herc’s Adventure: Rated E – content is suitable for everyone). According to
this definition, the majority of video games contain violence (Thompson & Haninger, 2001;
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Thompson, Tepichin, & Haninger, 2006; Gentile, 2009). In fact, among the most popular games
sold in the past 5 years, over 90% portray some form of violent behavior
4
.
Realistic and cartoonish violent video games have been linked to aggressive behavior and
cognitions in numerous correlational, experimental, and longitudinal studies (for reviews see
Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Anderson, et al., 2010; Ferguson, 2007; Sherry, 2001). The typical
correlational study in this area employs mainly questionnaires, asking participants to first
describe their video game playing habits and then self-report feelings or behaviors related to
aggression and violence. For example, Anderson and Dill (2000) found that preference for
violent video games was related to self-reported aggressive delinquency. The majority of
experimental studies involve having one group of participants play a violent video game (e.g.,
Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, etc.) and another group play a non-violent video game (e.g.,
Tetris, Top Spin Tennis, etc.) for a very short period of time (e.g., 15 minutes). Immediately
after playing the assigned video game, the aggressive cognitions or behaviors of the participants
are measured. Researchers employing this methodology have found that individuals who play
violent video games are more likely to expose others to “noise blasts” (a loud sound which
punishes others with an unpleasant noise; Anderson & Dill, 2000), report feeling more hostile on
a questionnaire (Markey & Scherer, 2009), and even give hot sauce to hypothetical individuals
who do not like spicy food (Barlett, Branch, Rodenheffer & Harris, 2009).
One limitation of previous research examining violent video games and aggressive
behavior is the manner in which “aggressive behavior” is operationalized. The majority of
research studies in this area assess minor forms of aggression (e.g., giving an unpleasant noise or

4
Represents the percent of game units sold between 2007 and 2011, as reported by the sale
tracking site vgchartz.com, which had an ESRB content descriptor for any type violence (e.g.,
intense violence, fantasy violence, cartoonish violence, etc.).
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too much hot sauce to another person) or self-reports of aggressive feelings or behaviors. As
pointed out by others (Anderson, Bushman, & Groom, 1997) laboratory studies are somewhat
limited because how aggressive behavior is measured in these contexts is different from severe
forms of aggression in the “real world,” which can involve aggravated assaults and homicides.
In other words, is a person’s indication that they would give another person hot sauce analogous
to shooting another person?
Given the ethical problems associated with studying real violence in a laboratory setting,
researchers who study such severe forms of violence have often examined changes in violent
crime rates in relation to changes in a variable of interest across time. Consistent with this
notion, Anderson and colleagues have stressed the importance of examining changes in criminal
data in order to determine whether these data point to the same conclusion as results from other
methodologies (e.g., laboratory studies; Anderson, 1987; Anderson, Bushman, & Groom, 1997).
Because each type of methodology affords different strengths and weaknesses, the confidence in
the validity of a finding is strengthened if diverse methods support the same hypothesis.
Conversely, if they do not support the same hypothesis, then the validity of the hypothesis is
called into question.
To illustrate this notion, Anderson, Bushman, and Groom (1997) presented a series of
studies which examined the “heat hypothesis” – the idea that uncomfortably hot temperatures
increase aggressive behaviors. These researchers found that between the years 1950 to 1995 the
average annual temperatures were positively related to aggravated assaults and homicides, even
after controlling for trends and serial dependency in the time series. What is perhaps most
impressive about this study is, although violent behavior has a multitude of causes, the effect of
heat was strong enough to express itself in real forms of violent behavior. By linking
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temperature to the changes in violent behavior across time the authors of this study concluded
that the “heat effect is real and significant when applied to large populations.” (Anderson, et al.,
1997, p. 1222).
In order to determine whether or not violent video games have a “real and significant”
effect when applied to large populations, the current study also examined changes in aggravated
assaults and homicides across time. Based on previous research and the speculation from the
popular media, lawmakers, and researchers, it was predicted that years or months where many
individuals were exposed to violent video games would yield relatively high rates of serious and
deadly assaults. To examine this prediction, four time series analyses were conducted to
investigate the relations between various assessments of video game habits and violent crime
within the United States. Analysis One examined annual changes in video game sales and
changes in violent crime between 1978 and 2011. Analysis Two investigated monthly video
games and monthly reports of aggravated assaults and homicides between 2007 and 2011.
Analysis Three examined how changes in internet searches for video game walkthroughs and
guides of popular violent video games were related to monthly changes in serious and deadly
assaults. Analysis Four investigated the change in aggravated assault and homicide rates
following the release of three extremely popular violent video games. In each analysis, both
concurrent and delayed effects were examined. It is hoped that this comprehensive and diverse
set of analyses will be able to detect any possible links between violent video games and real
world violent behavior.
Analysis One: Annual changes in video games sales and violent crime: 1978 to 2011
Although the video game industry began in 1971, with the first commercially sold coin-
operated video game Computer Space, it didn’t gain widespread attention until the release of the
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Atari 2600 game console in 1977 (Goldberg & Vendel, 2012). Over the past 40 years, the video
game industry has grown to include hundreds of companies with worldwide sales expected to
grow to $82 billion by 2017 (Gaudiosi, 2012). It is estimated that 4 out of 5 homes in the
United States with a male child have a video game system, with children playing video games an
average of 9 hours a week (13 hours for boys and 5 hours for girls; Gentile, Lynch, Linder, &
Walsh, 2004; Sherry, 2001). However, during this same time period, violent crime has
decreased. In 1978 the homicide rate in the United States was 9.0 homicides per 100,000 people,
but this rate dropped dramatically to 4.7 homicides per 100,000 people in 2011 (United States
Department of J ustice, 2013). Given the prevalence of violence in most popular video games
(Thompson & Haninger, 2001; Thompson, Tepichin, & Haninger, 2006; Gentile, 2009), the first
analysis examined the link between overall video game sales between 1978 and 2011 and
changes in aggravated assaults and homicides.
Method
Data and Sources
Annual video game sales. Annual game sale data between 1978 and 2011 were provided by
researchers at SuperData. SuperData is an independent marketing company, which collects data
from publishers and developers in order to examine various trends within the video game market
space (Van Dreunen, 2011). A second set of annual video game sales data were obtained from
the NPD Group for the years 1997 to 2011 (data were not available from this group prior to
1997). The NPD Group is a market research company, which collects actual sales data from
retailers and distributers in addition to tracking consumer-reporter purchasing behavior (NPD
Group, 2013). Based on these data, the NPD Group releases monthly and annual reports to
subscribers concerning video game sales. Both of these data sources provided almost identical
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sales information from overlapping years (r =.92) and sales data were averaged for overlapping
years. Annual sales figures were then adjusted for inflation, and annual population counts from
the United States were used to derive the amount of money spent on video game merchandise per
100,000 individuals (see Figure 1).
Violent crime rates. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Reports
(UCR) were used to compute annual aggravated assault and homicide rates (United States
Department of J ustice, 2013). The UCRs contain crime-related statistics from most law
enforcement agencies located in the United States, and consist of over 17,000 city, county, state,
and federal law enforcement agencies who voluntarily submit data concerning various crimes
brought to their attention. Aggravated assaults are defined as an unlawful attack on a person
with the intent of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury and often involve the use of a
weapon. Homicide counts include the willful killing of another human being and exclude deaths
caused by negligence or accidents. For each violent crime, annual crime rates per 100,000 were
computed between 1978 and 2011 (see Figure 1).
Analytic Strategy and Results
All analyses were conducted using SPSS 21. Simple correlations revealed that annual
video games sales were negatively related to aggravated assault (r (32) =-.40, p <.05) and
homicide (r (32) =-.84, p <.01) rates. However, these results need to be interpreted with
extreme caution as time series often contain a considerable amount of autocorrelation, indicating
that an observation for a given time period is correlated with past time periods (Sadler, et al.,
2009; Warner, 1998). Autocorrelations and trends were removed from each time series using the
Box-J enkins approach to fit time series data to an autoregressive integrated moving average
(ARIMA) statistical model (Box, J enkins, & Reinsel, 2008). ARIMA models are a popular
Real World Violence 12

technique for dealing with time series data and have been employed in numerous research studies
across various disciplines. For each time series, an ARIMA model is created by identifying
autocorrelations and trends in the data. This model is then used to estimate the parameters for a
given time series. By applying resulting ARIMA models to each time series, a set of residuals
for each series can be generated, which are free of trends, cycles, and autocorrelations (a process
called prewhitening; West & Hepworth, 1991).
The removal of trends is especially important, otherwise a spurious relationship may be
found between two time series simply because they share similar (or opposite) trends. For
example, video game sales have tended to become more popular across these 36 years, whereas
crime (especially homicide) has tended to decrease during this time period (see Figure 1).
Stronger evidence of the link between video game sales and violent crime would be provided if
deviations from these trends were related to each other. To examine this possibility, the
residuals from each of the time series were related to each other using the cross-correlation
function (CCF). The CCF allows comparisons at the same time point in both series (concurrent
effect) and up to a specific number of lagged periods (see Warner, 1998 and West & Hepworth,
1991, for additional information).
Based on autocorrelation and partial correlation functions, it was found that both annual
reports of video game sales and aggravated assault were fit by an ARIMA (2,1,0)

model and an
ARIMA (1,1,0) model was adequate to fit annual homicide rates (for additional information
about ARIMA models see Box, J enkins, & Reinsel, 2008). Ljung-Box Q tests for white noise
residuals revealed that when this model was applied to video game sales (Ljung-Box Q at lag 10
=5.43, p =.86), aggravated assault (Ljung-Box Q at lag 10 =7.86, p =.64), and homicide
(Ljung-Box Q at lag 10 =7.59, p =.70) rates, there were nonsignificant autocorrelations among
Real World Violence 13

the residuals. The ARIMA residuals for video game sales were then cross-correlated with the
residuals for the crime assessments both concurrently and up to a four year lag. As seen in
Figure 2, violent annual video game sales were unrelated to concurrent rates of aggravated
assaults and homicides and remained unrelated up to four years later.

Analysis Two: Monthly changes in video games and violent crime: 2007 to 2011
Results from the previous analysis revealed no link between changes in annual video
game sales and changes in serious and deadly assaults across 33 years. However, it is possible
that rather than affecting violent behavior years later, the negative effects of violent video games
are only expressed months later. Such a possibility is consistent with one large scale meta-
analysis which found that, after controlling for gender, violent video games have a small but
significant concurrent effect on aggressive behavior assessed in the laboratory (average r =.14),
but this effect becomes much smaller when examined longitudinally (average r =.07; Anderson
et al., 2010). In order to investigate the possibility that the negative effects of violent video
games express themselves quickly, the second analysis examined monthly video game sales and
monthly reports of aggravated assault and homicide between 2007 and 2011.
Method
Data and Sources
Monthly video game sales. Monthly video game sales data were provided by the NPD Group.
For the current analyses, the NPD Group provided monthly sales data between J anuary 2007 and
December 2011. Monthly sales were adjusted for inflation, and yearly population counts were
then used to derive the monthly amount of money spent on video game merchandise per 100,000
individuals (see Figure 3)
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Monthly crime rates. The UCRs were used to compute monthly aggravated assault and homicide
rates between January 2007 and December 2011 (see Figure 3). Because the current analysis
focused on monthly reports of violent crime only, law enforcement agencies that consistently
provided monthly crime statistics for a given year were included in the analyses.
Analytic Strategy and Results
Simple correlations revealed that monthly video game sales were negatively related to
aggravated assault (r (58) =- .45, p <.01) and were unrelated to homicide rates (r (58) =- .15, p
=.25). However, as before, due to the trends and dependency contained within these time series,
these findings need to be interpreted with caution. Because monthly reports of video game sales
and violent crime follow a seasonal pattern (see Figure 3), the seasonal ARIMA (SARIMA)
extension was employed (Box, J enkins, & Reinsel, 2008). SARIMA models are able to deal
with a time series which possess a seasonal component that repeats every s observations (e.g.,
every 12 months). The removal of seasonal trends is especially important if two time series
share similar (or opposite) cycles. For example, video game sales peak during the winter
(around December), whereas violent crime increase during the warm months (as predicted by the
heat hypothesis; Anderson, Bushman, & Groom, 1997). Similar to the previous analysis; each
time series was prewhitened to remove trends, cycles, and autocorrelations. The residuals from
these time series were then related to each other using the CCF both concurrently and up to 4
months later.
Using the autocorrelation and partial correlation functions, game sales could be fit with
the seasonal model SARIMA (0,1,0)(0,1,1)
12
. Aggravated assault required two additional
autoregressive terms (SARIMA [2,1,0][0,1,1]
12
), and homicide required four autoregressive
terms (SARIMA [4,1,0][0,1,1]
12
) in order to achieve adequate fit and remove trends and cycles
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in the data (for additional information about SARIMA models see Box, J enkins, & Reinsel,
2008). Ljung-Box Q tests for white noise residuals revealed that when this seasonal model was
applied to video game sales (Ljung-Box Q at lag 12 =4.19, p =.98), aggravated assault (Ljung-
Box Q at lag 12 =6.95, p =.86), and homicide rates (Ljung-Box Q at lag 12 =9.52, p =.66),
there were nonsignificant autocorrelations among the residuals. The SARIMA residuals for
video game sales were then cross-correlated with the residuals for the crime assessments both
concurrently and up to a four month lag. As seen in Figure 4, a negative relationship was found
between video game sales and concurrent rates of aggravated assault (r =- .39). There were no
significant lagged correlations, indicating that monthly video game sales were unrelated to
monthly rates of assaults and homicide up to four months later.

Analysis Three: Keyword Searchers for Violent Video Games and Violent Crime: 2004 to
2011
Although the majority of video games contain some form of violence (Thompson &
Haninger, 2001; Thompson, Tepichin, & Haninger, 2006; Gentile, 2009), Analysis Three
examined the possibility that only extremely violent and realistic video games affect serious
forms of violent behavior. The current analysis focused solely on popular M-rated video games,
which contain graphic and realistic forms of violence. Additionally, instead of examining the
sales of video games, Analysis Three employed a different assessment of game play.
One way to assess when individuals are playing a specific game is to examine behaviors
which are related to this activity. When playing video games, players often utilize
“walkthroughs” or strategy guides to augment their play experience. Before the popularity of the
internet, retail sales of the strategy guides for specific games frequently sold over one million
Real World Violence 16

copies (Snider, 2004). However, since the internet has become popular and widely accessible, a
simple search using Google allows players to quickly find these guides online. Such
walkthroughs and game guides are available on various website, one of the most popular being
the CBS Interactive owned “GameFaqs.” (Alexa, 2013). In order to estimate when a large group
of individuals are playing violent video games, Analysis Three examined the internet searches
for walkthroughs and game guides for popular M-rated violent video games between 2004 and
2011.
The current analysis investigated internet keyword searches via the popular search engine
Google. Using this service, a person might type the words “walkthrough Grand Theft Auto” or
“gamefaqs Grand Theft Auto” into Google’s search engine when attempting to find a
walkthrough or game guide to assist him or her with playing this video game. For example,
Figure 5 displays the frequency of searches for the term “walkthrough Grand Theft Auto” during
the first year Grand Theft Auto IV was released. As would be expected, searches for this
keyword phrase peaked in May following the release of the game on April 29th, 2008. If playing
the video game Grand Theft Auto contributed to violent crime it seems likely a similar increase
in crime would have also occurred around May. Past researchers have successfully used internet
keyword searches to examine interest in a wide variety of topics including seasonal affect
disorder (Yang, Huang, Peng, Tsai, 2010), dieting (Markey & Markey, 2013), suicide
(McCarthy, 2010), pornography searches (Markey & Markey, 2010a; 2011), and even to track
H1N1 outbreaks (Ginsberg, et al., 2009). In a similar manner, Analysis Three examined whether
or not there was a link among keyword searches for violent video game walkthroughs and game
guides and concurrent and future rates of aggravated assault and homicide.
Method
Real World Violence 17

Data and Sources
Keyword searches for violent video game walkthroughs and guides. Google Trends was utilized
to determine how often individuals searched for walkthroughs and game guides of popular
violent video games between J anuary 2004 (the earliest time point data were available) and
December 2011. Violent video game searches included the keywords “walkthrough” or
“gamefaqs” along with the name of popular M-rated violent video games sold within this time
period (e.g., Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Gears of War, Halo. etc.). For example, a user who
searched for “walkthrough of Halo” would be included in this analysis, but a user who only
searched for “Halo” or “walkthrough” would be excluded. Google Trends examines Google web
searches to determine how many searches for the given set of keywords had been conducted in a
given week relative to the average number of searches on Google for those keywords over the
entire observed time period. Search data were standardized by dividing the search volume for
each time period by the greatest search volume and multiplying by 100. In this range, a value of
100 would indicate the time period with the greatest overall searches for a set of keywords. A
time period with half of the keyword searches as the highest time period would receive a value of
50, and so forth (Google, 2013). Weekly reports were then aggregated to estimate the volume of
internet searches for walkthroughs and game guides of violent video games which occurred each
month between January 2004 and December 2011 (see Figure 6).
Monthly crime rates. Violent crime statistics from the UCRs were utilized to compute monthly
violent crime rates for aggravated assault and homicide. In the current analyses monthly reports
were collected between J anuary 2003 and December 2011 (see Figure 6).
Analytic Strategy and Results
Real World Violence 18

Searches for violent video game walkthroughs and guides were negatively related to
aggravated assault (r (94) =-.31, p <.01) and were unrelated to homicide (r (94) =-.12, p =.27).
SARIMA models were used to prewhiten each time series. Using autocorrelation and partial
correlation functions, it was found that keyword searches for violent video game guides and tips
fit a SARIMA (1,0,0)(0,1,1)
12
model, and both aggravated assault and homicide time series were
fit by the same seasonal models employed in the previous analysis. Ljung-Box Q tests for white
noise residuals further revealed that when these models were applied to keyword searches
(Ljung-Box Q at lag 12 =9.49, p =.66), aggravated assault (Ljung-Box Q at lag 12 =10.00, p =
.61), and homicide (Ljung-Box Q at lag 12 =8.15, p =.83) it produced nonsignificant
autocorrelations among the residuals. The residuals of these time series were then related to each
other using CCF concurrently and up to 4 months later. As seen in Figure 7, keyword searches
for violent video game walkthroughs and guides were negatively related to both aggravated
assaults (r =-.22) and homicides (r =-.22) two months later. None of the other lags produced
significant relations between keyword searches for violent video walkthroughs and guides,
aggravated assaults, or homicides.

Analysis Four: Violent crime following the release of three popular violent video games
Video game releases are similar to movie releases in that the majority of the public
consumes the product when it is first released. The violent first person shooter, Call of Duty:
Black Ops, earned $360 million the first day it was released, $650 million within the next four
days, and over $1 billion in sales by 41 days (Associated Press, 2010). These impressive sales
are not limited to this single game. For example, between 2003 and 2011 three of most popular
M-rated violent video games (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Call of
Real World Violence 19

Duty Black Ops) combined earned over $3.5 billion in sales. Given the violent content of these
games and their popularity, the media, lawmakers, and researchers have linked Call of Duty and
Grand Theft Auto to serious acts of violence in the real world. Some have implied that Call of
Duty was a causal factor in numerous mass shootings, including the 2011 Norway attacks, the
Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, the Toulhouse and Montauban shootings in
2012, and the Washington Navy Yard shootings in 2013 (Bushman, 2013; Smeltz, 2012). Grand
Theft Auto has been associated with both general trends in violence and specific violent crimes,
including the arrests of William and J osh Buckner in 2003 for homicide, Devin Moore in 2003
for first-degree murder, Cody Posey in 2004 for homicide, Ryan Chinnery in 2008 for rape and
grievous bodily harm, Stephen Attard, Samuel Philip, Dylan Laired, and J aspreet Singh in 2008
for various robberies and assaults, and in 2013, only four days after the release of Grand Theft
Auto IV, the arrest of Zachary Burgess for vehicle theft and kidnapping (c.f., Newcomb, 2013;
Crowely, 2008).
If violent video games are causes of serious violent crimes, it seems probable that serious
and deadly assaults would increase following the release of these three popular violent video
games. To examine this hypothesis, the final analysis employed an interrupted time series
analysis. Such a methodology has been used in the past to examine numerous health and social
issues and is among the strongest, quasi-experiment design available to evaluate longitudinal
effects of “real world” outcomes (Wagner, Soumerai, Zhang, & Ross-Degnan, 2002). It is
predicted that following the release of these extremely popular violent video games there will be
an increase in aggravated assaults and homicides. Because the duration of this effect is
unknown, increases in violent crime will be examined for continuous periods of 1 to 12 months
after the release of these violent video games.
Real World Violence 20

Method
Data and Sources
Release dates of popular violent video games. The North American release dates of Grand Theft
Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Call of Duty: Black Ops were obtained from each
game’s publisher (see Figure 6). These three video games were selected because they were
among the top selling M-rated video games during the time period examined and due to their
frequently discussed links with violent criminal behavior (c.f., Bushman, 2013; Smeltz, 2012;
Newcomb, 2013; Crowely, 2008).
Monthly crime rates. UCRs crime statistics from the previous analysis were used to compute
monthly violent crime rates for aggravated assault and homicide between J anuary 2003 and
December 2011 (see Figure 6).
Analytic Strategy and Results
Interrupted time-series analyses were computed to compare violent crime before and after
the release of three popular violent video games. In the current analysis, the violent crime rates
following the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Call of Duty:
Black Ops were examined in order to determine whether or not these games were related to
changes in aggravated assaults and homicides. Specifically, monthly changes in violent crime
were examined for continuous periods of 1 to 12 months after the release of these violent video
games. This methodology provides insight into whether the release of these violent video games
predicted violent crime over and above the prediction derived from understanding the trends and
cycles of violent crime, 1 to 12 months after these games were released.
The same SARIMA models used in Analysis Three were again used to eliminate trends,
cycles, and autocorrelated errors in each time series. Binary dummy variables were then used to
Real World Violence 21

model pulse effects on violent crime for continuous periods of 1 to 12 months after the release of
these violent video games. Ling-Box Q statistics at a lag of 12 revealed nonsignificant
autocorrelations among the residuals for each of the 24 analyses (12 for aggravated assault and
12 for homicide). The resulting t-tests for the pulse effects of each time period were transformed
to r-values to provide assessments of effect sizes. As can be seen in Figure 7, aggravated assault
rates tended to show a decrease following the release of these three violent video games, but this
change failed to reach significance. Homicides also decreased after these violent video games
were released and displayed significant decreases three and four months following the release of
these games.
Discussion
Laboratory and correlational research suggest violent video games are a causal risk factor
for increased aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, and aggressive behavior (Anderson &
Bushman, 2001; Anderson, et al., 2010; Ferguson, 2007; Sherry, 2001). Based on the results
from these studies, the media, lawmakers, and researchers have linked violent video games to
serious forms of violent behavior, including aggravated assaults and homicides. The current
study sought to examine whether or not such research, which has tended to examine mundane
forms of aggression (e.g., giving an unpleasant noise or too much hot sauce to another person),
generalize to serious and deadly assaults reported in the real world. Crime data provided by the
FBI for the past thirty years along with sales of video games, internet keyword searches for
violent video game guides, and release dates of popular violent video games were examined
annually and monthly using large scale time series data analytic techniques (e.g., ARIMA,
Seasonal ARIMA, interrupted time designs, cross-correlation functions, etc.). Concurrent effects
of violent video games and lagged effects lasting months and years were considered.
Real World Violence 22

Contrary to the claims that violent video games are linked to aggressive assaults and
homicides, no evidence was found to suggest that this medium was a major (or minor)
contributing cause of violence in the United States. Annual trends in video game sales for the
past 33 years were unrelated to violent crime both concurrently and up to four years later.
Unexpectedly, monthly sales of video games were related to concurrent decreases in aggravated
assaults and were unrelated to homicides. Searches for violent video game walkthroughs and
guides were also related to decreases in aggravated assaults and homicides two months later.
Finally, homicides tended to decrease in the months following the release of popular M-rated
violent video games.
The findings that violent crime was more likely to show decreases instead of increases in
response to violent video games were contrary to what was expected. One possible explanation
for this reduction in violence is that playing violent video games leads to a catharsis. In other
words, when people play violent video games they are able to release their aggression in the
virtual world instead of in the real world. Consistent with this notion, adolescent boys tend to
report feeling less angry after playing violent video games, and even actively select to use this
medium in order to control their aggression (Olson, Kutner, & Warner, 2008). However, other
researchers have found little evidence to suggest venting one’s anger on a safe target actually
reduces aggression (cf. Bushman, 2002).
A more parsimonious and less contentious explanation than the catharsis effect focuses
on the qualities and desires of people who are innately predisposed to violent behavior (c.f.,
Ferguson, et al., 2008; Pinker, 2002). Individuals who are prone to aggression and violence tend
to seek out violent media, like video games, in order to provide them with models that express
behaviors and desires consistent with their own innate motivational system (Markey, in press;
Real World Violence 23

Surette, 2012). When violent games, like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, are released these
aggressive individuals likely spend time playing these video games. Such a behavior effectively
removes these individuals from the streets or other social venues where they might have
otherwise committed a violent act. In other words, because violent individuals are playing
violent video games in their homes there may be a decrease in violent crime when popular
violent video games are released.
The results from this study should be considered within the context of the methodological
limitations of this study. Given both the number of analyses conducted and the unexpected
direction of the results in the current study, researchers should examine whether these results
generalize to future time periods and other geographic regions. Additionally, although theories
of video game violence operate at the level of the individual, data for the current study were
collected at the aggregate level. Due to this ecological fallacy, caution is warranted when
attempting to draw causal relations between these variables as trends sometimes become altered
when subpopulations are aggregated (i.e., Simpson’s paradox; Wagner, 1982). However, even
with this concern, prominent video game researchers have argued that theories framed at the
individual level can translate into concrete empirical predications at the aggregate level
(Anderson, Bushman, & Groom, 1997). Consistent with this notion, it was predicted that years
or months when many individuals were exposed to violent video games would yield relatively
high serious and deadly assault rates. Such an empirical prediction is falsifiable, constituting “a
legitimate test of the theory despite its cross-level nature” (Anderson, Bushman, & Groom, 1997,
page 1221).
This research is also limited because it only examined a single risk factor for violent
behavior – violent video games. Researchers have often adopted a risk factor approach when
Real World Violence 24

discussing the negative effects of violent video games. This approach acknowledges there are
many risk factors for violent crime. Each factor may elevate the risk for violent behavior, and
with enough risk factors present it becomes likely a person will act violently (Anderson, Gentile,
& Buckley, 2007). No scientist has suggested violent video games are the only cause of violent
behavior, just as no scientist has suggested that heat is the only cause of violent crime or
smoking is the only cause of lung cancer. Of course, risk factors like heat and smoking are
strong enough that when it becomes hotter there is a significant increase in violent crime
(Anderson, Bushman, & Groom, 1997), and as more people have stopped smoking there has
been a dramatic decrease in lung cancer rates (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
2013). Such a pattern does not exist for violent video games. As more people have been
exposed to violent video games serious and deadly assaults have not increased. It appears that
any adverse effects violent video games have on serious violent behavior are either nonexistent
or they are dwarfed by the effects of other factors that make the effects of violent video games
appear nonexistent.
The rhetoric used by some in generalizing the findings of research conducted primarily in
laboratories and with questionnaires to serious and deadly assaults appears to be unfounded. The
current study found no evidence that violent video games are contributing to the high rate of
violence in the United States (Anderson, 2000) or that controlling the use of violent video games
would protect our society from violent crime (Bushman, 2013). The effect of violent video
games on public safety does not appear to be equivalent to the effect of smoking on lung cancer
(Bushman & Anderson, 2001). Although video games might “affect people,” it is unlikely they
are a bigger problem than guns (Linkins, 2013). If video games are really the equivalent of flight
simulators training people to kill (Bushman, 2008; Gentile & Anderson, 2003; Grossman, 1998),
Real World Violence 25

it is difficult to explain why homicide rates would go down after millions of these “murder
simulators” have been sold. When the media, politicians, or researchers link the murderous
rampages of male adolescents with violent video games they are conveying a classic illusory
correlation (Ferguson, 2013). These individuals are ignoring that 90% of young males play
video games (Lenhart, 2008). Finding that a young man who committed a violent crime also
played a popular video game, such as Call of Duty, Halo, or Grand Theft Auto, is as pointless as
pointing out that the criminal also wore socks. The rhetoric about violent video games does not
match the data.
It is important to note that in no way does this conclusion imply previous research
examining violent video games is unimportant. There is ample evidence that violent video
games do increase aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, and some aggressive behaviors. It is
possible that, although violent video games are not related to severe forms of violence, they may
affect other types of less aggressive behaviors, such as bullying, spreading gossip, minor fights at
school, pushing and shoving, or hurling insults. This study also does not provide insight into
whether or not certain subpopulations are adversely effected by violent video games. Although
research has been mixed on this issue (see Ferguson & Olson, 2014), it is possible that violent
video games adversely affect only some individuals, and those who are affected have preexisting
dispositions (e.g., high levels of psychoticism, anger, etc.), which make them susceptible to such
violent media (Markey & Scherer, 2009; Markey & Markey, 2010b) Finally, the current
research does not address how exposure to violent video games at a young age might affect later
adult behavior. As scientists, we can reflect about such a relationship based upon available
research, but we need to be upfront that this is only supposition. We need to be clear with our
peers and the general audience about the claims we make that are backed up by research and
Real World Violence 26

those that are speculation. In short, as scientists, we need to be careful that we do not blur the
line between our scientific results and our scientific conjecture.
Real World Violence 27

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Figure 1. Annual Changes in Video Game Sales and Violent Crime Between 1978 - 2011.



Real World Violence 36



Figure 2. Cross Correlations between Annual Video Game Sales and Violent Crime.


Note. The horizontal lines represent the 95% confidence interval under the null hypothesis.
Real World Violence 37

Figure 3. Monthly Changes in Video Game Sales and Violent Crime Between 2007-2011.


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Figure 4. Cross Correlations between Monthly Video Game Sales and Violent Crime.


Note. The horizontal lines represent the 95% confidence interval under the null hypothesis.
Real World Violence 39

Figure 5. Internet Keyword Searches for Grand Theft Auto Guides Following the Release of the Grand Theft
Auto IV on April 29, 2008.



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Figure 6. Monthly Changes in Searches for Violent Video Game Guides and Violent Crime Between 2003-2011.



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Figure 7. Cross Correlations between Searches for Violent Video Game Guides and and Violent Crime

Note. The horizontal lines represent the 95% confidence interval under the null hypothesis.
Real World Violence 42


Figure 8. Changes in Aggravated Assault and Homicide Rates Following the Release of Three Popular Violent
Video Games.


Note. The horizontal lines represent the 95% confidence interval under the null hypothesis.